The verdict is still out regarding the benefits of those bulky, uni-tasking ab machines you find on some weight room floors; however, one thing is becoming clear: core-training benefits cannot be realized by training the trunk musculature in isolation. For a more balanced approach, incorporate closed-chain exercises into your classes.
An exercise is closed-chain if either the hands or feet are involved in supporting the weight of the body (Blahnik, Brooks & Brooks 2006). An inherent property of closed-chain exercises is that they require active core stabilization. In effect, you get two exercises for the price of one! You don’t need a big machine to get big benefits. Small toys can be even more effective, and they give participants the chance to explore dynamic movement patterns. Resistance tubing, flat bands and Gliding™ discs are useful for teaching integrated movement and providing body balance in isolation exercises.
Begin in quadruped position, one Gliding disc under right hand and one under left toes. Lower to forearms, and step right foot back in preparation for plank. Cue participants to engage core as they slide left foot in line with right, creating streamlined plank position.
Base Movement. Slide right hand straight out in front of shoulder, reducing points of contact and increasing stability challenge. Cue clients to keep everything except right arm perfectly still.
Progression. For contralateral movement challenge, participants can mimic a snow angel by sweeping right arm up and out while simultaneously sweeping left leg out.
Note: This is a difficult exercise and should be introduced only after participants have mastered the traditional plank. Introduce the limb movements one at a time. Even then, stick to 3–5 repetitions, alternating sides.
This exercise can be done standing, sitting or kneeling. Begin by pulling flat band taut overhead with both hands. Cue participants to drop shoulders away from ears while creating tension in band. This will increase activation in latissimus dorsi and prepare them for core bracing.
Base Movement. While maintaining tension in band, flex trunk laterally to right. Hip shifting is common, so cue clients to imagine bending waist over supersized stability ball while keeping contact with right hip.
Progression. Once flexion is achieved, continue bracing and keep left arm and shoulder stable while simultaneously pulling right arm down. Return right arm, followed by trunk, back to start.
Note: The difficulty in this move lies in the participant’s ability to laterally flex first and then draw the arm down. This teaches core control, as well as shoulder and pelvic-girdle stabilization, while also enhancing flexibility. Perform 8–12 repetitions, alternating sides.
For this exercise you’ll need resistance tubing and either a workout partner or a sturdy anchor point (e.g., ballet bar, door frame or pole). Partners interlace tubes like chain links and stand far enough away to cause tubing tension to angle arms slightly up and away from floor.
Base Movement. Engage core, and press both palms down against resistance until they are just outside hips. Give partners time to synchronize movements. This should look like a slow and vertical version of Pilates hundred.
Progression. Add trunk rotation by pushing both arms to same side of hips. Keep arms as straight as possible. Allow for some forward flexion (similar to high to low wood-chop), and remind partners to push to own right sides simultaneously, then left.
Note: The hips will have a tendency to drift toward the rotating side. Cue participants to keep their hips square and still. To maximize rotation in the torso, remind clients to keep elbows as straight as possible.
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